Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pope Francis on "Ideological Colonization," Same-Sex Marriage, and Contraception: Genealogy of a Disreputable Idea

In the Philippines, Pope Francis warned against the "ideological colonization" of developing nations by developed ones intent on forcing Western concepts of family and sexuality on the developing sector of the world. As Joshua McElwee notes in the National Catholic Reporter article I've just linked, Francis was understood to be speaking against same-sex marriage and contraception with this remark.

Francis De Bernardo notes that, in his remarks to journalists aboard the plane that brought him back to Rome following the trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, Francis said he has heard from bishops in Africa that Western aid to their nations is often tied to attempts to force Africans to accept concepts of family and sexuality (e.g., tolerance for those who are gay) antithetical to their culture. (As De Bernardo also notes, isn't it interesting that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development ties up its funding in precisely the same way, using grants as tools to assure that organizations calling for acceptance of gay rights don't get funding?)

Where does the pope get this notion of "ideological colonization"? Well, for one thing, he takes it directly from his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who used his papal address to the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops in 2009 to slam the attempt of modern cultures to try to inject "ideological poisons from abroad" into the bloodstreams of African cultures, by challenging the ways in which those cultures do business when it comes to women, gay folks, family matters, etc.

And as the work of Danielle Sauvage of the Africa Family Life Federation, which advises the African bishops on gender and family issues, illustrates, the claim that people in developing nations are being poisoned by Western ideologies about gender and family can be and often is peddled to the developing part of the world by Westerners themselves. As African church leaders including Kapya Kaoma have repeatedly sought to warn the rest of the world, the American (and European) religious right have been very adroit for several decades now about exporting hateful homophobia to Africa, and then claiming that the ideological poisons of homophobia they themselves have injected into African culture are indigenous to that culture, and should be a corrective to the decadence of gay-tolerant Western cultures.

So where does Pope Francis get this idea that "ideological colonization" is going on as developed nations try to force developing nations to accept Western notions of gender, sexuality, and family? He's echoing his predecessor Pope Benedict with that assertion. Both he and Benedict claim to have heard it from the Catholic bishops of Africa.

But if Kapya Kaoma and many other credible witnesses are to be believed, right-wing Western religious and political groups are themselves exporting the ideological poision of homophobia to Africa, and then trying to claim that they're defending African cultures from the colonizing efforts of liberal thinkers and liberal groups. So that it becomes doubtful, indeed, that those in the West using the developing nations as a bulwark against liberal notions of gender and sexuality that they reject are really defending non-Western nations against the ideological colonization of the West. In fact, quite precisely, they're using those nations in a way that harks back to the colonial period to carry on culture wars within Western culture. 

This is all something of a nasty shell game, isn't it? Maybe it would be better for the leaders of the Catholic church to admit that the cultures of both the developed world and the developing nations have something of value to bring to each other, and also need the perspectives of each other as correctives of their blind spots. Maybe it would be better, for instance, to look at issues like how women should be treated, how sexual minority groups should be received, and to admit that all the cultures of the world have serious shortcomings at the same time that various cultures have something of value to contribute in these areas to other cultures.

If those cultures are willing to listen to one another respectfully . . . . Something you'd think that leaders of religious groups proclaiming the Christian gospel would be all about fostering, wouldn't you? But in order to foster such respectful conversation among world cultures about matters like how women are treated or how sexual minority groups are received, those religious groups themselves have to value women and sexual minority groups, and want to see them protected from harm.

And I don't see the leaders of my Catholic church being at that point of moral development. Not now. Nor anytime soon, unfortunately.

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